New Mural by French Artist, JR, Shows San Francisco at its Best
Guest post by Shawn Saleme
Early last year, the well known French artist and photographer JR, who is known around the world for his large scale urban works that address socio-economic and political issues, came to San Francisco to create a “portrait” of the city. Through his photography of individuals, he would combine all the subjects together to create one massive mural along with some other works. He and his crew drove around in a 53’ trailer truck with a photo-studio inside and parked it in 22 locations throughout the city during the ambitious project. Twelve hundred passer-byers were photographed, filmed and interviewed with each participant choosing the way they wanted to be represented. In this way, it created a portrait of this city we all love and he has titled the project “The Chronicles of San Francisco.”
JR took inspiration from Diego Rivera, whose famous murals are sprinkled across the city. He has begun to imagine how a whole city and its diversity of residents can be represented through art. His very first city-wide mural was of the residents of Les Bosquets outside Paris, which suffered violent riots in 2005. Through his mural of the residents, JR was able to capture some reflection of the sentiments about the riots, and received ample praise, including from the President of France who inaugurated the mural in a public sqaure in 2017. JR decided to chose San Francisco as his next major urban mural project. While the opening of this 120’ (36.5m) LED mural will not open until May 22, 2019 at the San Francisco Musuem of Modern Art, his “sketches” of the chronicles, which include portraits, works on paper, video installations, lightboxes, and etched glass works are currently on display at the PACE gallery in Palo Alto. It also includes a much smaller scaled version of the LED mural that will be hosted at SFMOMA.
I cannot wait to see the mural displayed at the art museum, which JR made sure would be free for everyone to view. As I visited the PACE Gallery to view the sketches, I have to say that JR has succeeded in capturing all the vibrant colors the City has to offer despite the images being in black and white. It’s wonderful how they all come together and interact with each other to form the picture. It was a powerful reminder of the City’s identity. The representations of the City and its long standing cultural elements emanate through the mural.
JR says of the project: “In a painting, it’s usually the perspective that focuses the attention of the viewer. With this new mural technique, we break the perspective: Every person is presented in the same size, captured with the same light. No one is more important that another. It is not a group photo, but rather a group of photos. The mural aims to be a picture of society, not depicting the good and bad, but rather showing that both sides are present in everyone.”
The portraits echo and reaffirm how diverse San Francisco is and always has been. Many of the cultural figures that have made significant impact to the city were present in the mural. There was Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani from Glide Memorial, the kodo drum players from Japantown, the Gay Men’s Chorus and the monks from St. Anthony’s reaching to help out those in need. There were the drag queens, various protestors, street performers, and even former mayor Gavin Newsom. There were great artist advocates like $teven Ra$pa, the San Francisco Giants owner Larry Baer and even Broke-Ass Stuart himself could be found in the mural.
Besides the cultural figures that permeate the works, and I am glad they found out about the project and got involved, there were also police officers, firefighters, EMTs, public workers, and delivery persons. There was a scene of a doctor checking the heart of a citizen, a mother being show her baby for the first time, young kids dressed in astronaut suits looking up in hope, a group all looking down focused on their laptops and phones, and a guy holding a remote to a garage full of swimmers which seemed to symbolize the swim the city is in right now.
One could look at this mural and these ‘sketches’ for a very long time.
Each expression tells a story, both individually and collectively. It tells a story about a wonderful city full of beautiful people. It shows a historical print of this city, and of all the flavors and colors that it hosts, and provokes thoughts of how everyone could all come together to make it a liveable and shareable city for all.
The Chronicles of San Francisco mural will be exhibited on Floor 1 of the Roberts Family Gallery at the SFMOMA from May 23, 2019 – April 27, 2020. Admission is free.
The ‘Chronicles of San Francisco – Sketches,’ opened on Feburary 6, 2019 and will run till March 24, 2019 at the PACE Gallery in Palo Alto.
One can pre-order the book coming out on the “Chronicles of San Francisco” as well.